During my first mission trip, I witnessed gratitude in a way I’d never seen before. You see, gratitude is a way of life for the Christians in Bolotnoye, Russia. I think I benefitted more from the believers in this small rural town than they did from me. They are living illustrations that when we’re genuinely grateful to the Lord, other godly characteristics develop as well. Here’s what I learned in Siberia about gratitude.
This small house church had persevered during communist rule and persecution from the state approved orthodox church. With the opening of the Iron Curtain, believers could worship and share the gospel openly for the first time. Consequently, the church began experiencing growth. Our task was to help with evangelism training and to hold evangelistic meetings, along with providing Bibles and other materials not previously accessible.
They were extremely grateful for things that we, as Americans, take for granted. But rather than complain about what they had been denied for so long, they were excited and thankful for what God was providing now. They are proof “that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:3).
Our group of seven was divided among three houses. Bolotnoye hadn’t progressed much since the early 1940’s. Indoor plumbing was found only in government buildings and the homes of wealthy managers of the brick factory and meat packing facility. Yet, our hosts shared their homes with joy and enthusiasm, making every effort for our comfort.
For instance, each host slept on the floor or on a couch in order for us to have a bed. Even when we objected, they would not consider any other arrangement. Instead, they constantly thanked us for coming to their church, city, and home. We were strangers, yet they treated us as family and did so at their own discomfort. Their hospitality was humbling.
God taught me on this trip that generosity has nothing to do with prosperity and everything to do with availability and attitude. The missionaries we were working with said that most of our meals would consist of vegetables and bread because meat was too expensive. So, we were surprised by the presence of chicken, sausage, and ham at our meals. Each family had been saving money specifically to feed us.
What’s more, none of the people providing the meals ate any of the meat for fear that we wouldn’t have enough. I can still see the smiles on their faces as they served the food. They took pleasure in offering something costly, and were grateful for the opportunity to be generous.
Selflessness was customary for these folks. They survived the dark days of communism by humbly serving one another. What one had, they all had—whether it was food, wood for a fire, care during sickness, or comfort in hardship. They were grateful, not only for the ability to provide, but that God had entrusted them with such an opportunity. They taught me that serving others is part of the stewardship of our faith. And when it’s done with sincerity, it produces genuine humility.
Even while writing this, I’m convicted by the memory of that trip and the ministry of those precious believers. Their ability to persevere encourages me in our current culture. It’s a reminder that Thanksgiving is more than a day on the calendar. It should be a functioning characteristic in the life of every believer. So, I encourage you to focus on genuine gratitude this Thanksgiving—because grateful people are truly the most hospitable, generous, and selfless people.